It’s time for our annual cultural schizophrenia about the holidays:“This is so fun—I love this! This is so stressful—I hate this!”
Together, we carry around our guiding mythic vision of the holiday “glow”—the fragrant house decorated with twinkling lights, piles of glittering gifts under the tree, loving faces gathered around the laden table, Christmas carolers singing cheery songs outside, soft white snowflakes drifting slowly down. The whole family will gather, and everyone will be mellow and grateful and everyone will get along…except, at your house, it doesn’t look like that.
At your house, you act cranky and stressed because you are exhausted from creeping through a traffic jam to a crowded mall after a long day of work. You’ve been trying to pile up the presents under the tree, but it isn’t very fun because your position at work has been cut way back and you already had too much on your credit cards before the holidays began. Your husband was going to help you with some of this shopping, but he is down with the flu, so it’s all on you. You’re blue because one of your grown children isn’t coming home this year and you miss them. Your whole family will get together, but you aren’t looking forward to it because your sister is a control freak when she is the host, and her husband will make everyone tense as he holds forth with his bitter political views.
What you really want to do is stay home in your robe and watch a movie by yourself with a good cup of coffee. You resent the expectations of the holiday season, and you feel guilty about your negative attitude. It’s time to actively practice some forgiveness.
The act of forgiveness is a pro-active tool that will guarantee a holiday season that is truly about increasing “peace on Earth, good will to all,” as well as having a jolly good time with your family members. What is the source of our holiday stress? It’s the load of unrealistic expectations that we carry about how things “should” be. What is forgiveness? It is the refreshing experience of releasing an expectation that is causing stress, and seeing the good in people and situations, exactly as they are.
This year, why not start a new holiday tradition? Practice unconditional love and forgiveness, and let go of at least one expectation that is causing your tension. You can do this preemptively, before you go to that holiday dinner where you will see an annoying in-law, or you can do it as you go along, as things don’t turn out quite like you hoped. Once you let go of your expectations about what you want, and open up your heart to the gifts of the moment, you will have a surprisingly good time.
When your priority is celebrating the goodness in the people you are with, you will be delighted by unexpected moments of loving connection with them, and you will find that “holiday glow” is glowing inside you, for real.
Before you join a family gathering, remind yourself of your goal for harmony and positive connection towards others.
1. If you get angry with someone, step into a private space for a few minutes and vigorously vent your emotions. “I just hate you sometimes! You are such an idiot! How could you…?!”Try kicking a pillow to help vent these emotions.
2. Identify the expectation you have that is causing your tension. For example: You should be friendly and polite, you should have been on time, you should agree with my politics, you should have done something different with the meal, you should appreciate and understand me.
3. Consciously shift your expectation to a preference. For example: I wish you and I were more alike.
4. Acknowledge reality. But we’re pretty different.
5. Affirm a forgiving attitude. And I want to enjoy you anyway
6. Release your expectation. So I release my expectation that you agreed with me about….
7. Imagine a shower of light washing away the stress from your body, feelings, and mind.
8. Imagine sending a gift of light and good will to the person, as they are.
9. See something good in them or the situation.
10. Enjoy yourself!
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